Friday, February 16, 2018

Cities in the Time of Climate Change: Green is the Colour of Resilience

I currently live in Toronto, Canada, a city of three million people and 13 percent green space (with 2.8 hectares of city-owned or operated parkland per 1,000 people). Known for its conservative politics, Toronto—like many North American cities—is in a headlong collision course with change. I’m talking about climate change. Climate change will change everything. Toronto is going to get “hotter, wetter, and wilder,” says Blair Feltmate of the University of Waterloo. The liberal community of Vancouver, where I raised my family, can expect more of what it already gets: dry summers and wet winters. Just more.

What does it mean to us?

Urban Toronto
Over 80 percent of Canadians live in cities, disconnected from the natural world that makes up over 90 percent of our country. Mixed boreal forest occupies over 40 percent of Canada’s diverse wilderness and a third of the world’s boreal forest. But we don’t live there. For eighty percent of us, our ecosystem is urban height and sprawl. When we encounter urban trees or small parks, we aren’t experiencing anything remotely natural.

We don’t understand or appreciate what the natural world is or does (for us) by simply being: the life-giving flow of water vapour, tree aerosols and gases that we breathe in with every beat of our hearts; the communication and vibration of pure wildness that contributes to our physical and mental health—from smell to sight to touch and sound; the recursive oscillation of polarities that spark all life—from lightening to the soil beneath our feet; or the natural succession—from colonization to expansion to death and regeneration—that invigorates and defines all that ever and will live.

North American boreal zone
Why would we? We’re not ecologists, scientists, or activists. That’s someone else.

Ecology is the study of environmental relationships. We didn’t learn it or experience it in our homes, locked within a dense row of houses or on the tenth floor of an apartment building from where we commute to and from work. With the exception of some indigenous schools (which teach respect for the spirit of wildness), we certainly didn’t learn it in our schools.

We have no idea what the natural environment is.

And if we can’t even recognize it, how can we understand its functional role in the intricate well-being of this entire precious planet?

Bramble Cay melomys
It is no wonder then that most Canadians—though we may intellectually accept climate change and its effects on this planet (because we’re smarter than some)—likely do not viscerally understand or appreciate why and how it will drastically change our lives. For most of us, climate change—as with Nature—is something that is happening to someone else, somewhere else. From those far away calamities to the quiet struggles no one talks about. We hear and lament over the flooding in Bangladesh or the Maldives. Or the wildfires in northern British Columbia. Or the bomb cyclones of the eastern seaboard. 

Meanwhile, the polar bear struggles quietly with disappearing sea ice in the Canadian arctic. The koala copes quietly with the disappearing eucalyptus. Coral reefs quietly disappear in an acidifying ocean. Antarctic penguins silently starve with disappearing krill due to ice retreat. And while jellyfish invade the Mediterranean, UK seas and northeast Atlantic, the humble Bramble Cay melomys slips quietly into extinction—the first mammal casualty of climate change.

So, those of us who are enlightened speak of climate resilience and adaptation. We arm our cities with words like green infrastructure, stormwater management, urban runoff control, flood mitigation. Ecological literacy. But what are these things to us? They are tools, yes. Good tools to combat and adapt to the effects of climate change. But will they create resilience? I think not.

Resilience comes from within and through a genuine connection with our environment. Tools, no matter how proficient, are only as good as how they are used based on intention from a deep understanding. It isn’t enough to achieve the How of things; we must embrace the Why of things. And that comes from the heart. We must feel it in our hearts. Or it won’t work. And we quite simply won’t survive.

Marq de Villiers wrote in his book Water that water has become imperilled “not through the deliberate actions of evil men, the corporate rapists of ecological fantasy, but through the small doings of many—far too many—ordinary people, doing things in the way they have always done them. That’s where the real danger lies.”

Greenpeace blames Coca Cola and Nestle for the plastic garbage islands littering our oceans; but how did those plastic islands get there? who bought them and then threw them out without a second thought where they were going?

Canada's boreal forest
The answer lies with us, the ordinary people. With the choices we make every day. With the language we use. With the respect we give. With our heartfelt gratitude for this beautiful and still bountiful country we live in that gives us the water we drink and the food we eat.

Canadians celebrate our multi-cultural heritage. We pride ourselves in our tolerance and welcoming nature. Our national anthem speaks of our land. Our national symbols embrace nature with the maple, beaver, caribou and loon. Yet who of us knows the habitat of the loon—now at risk, by the way (climate change will impact much of its breeding grounds). Who knows what the boreal forest—which makes up over half of our country—is? How it functions to keep this entire planet healthy, and what that ecosystem needs, in turn, to keep doing this? Who understands that we all live in a watershed with an associated water cycle and what consequences water diversion, removal, squandering or pollution will have on it?

Rosedale Ravine, Toronto
Ecology isn’t rocket science. Ecology is common sense. Ecology is about relationship and discovery.

Open yourself to discovery. Go find Nature, even if it is in the city. Connect with something natural, green and wild. Find the wonder of it.

Find something to love.

When you do, you will find yourself. And that is where you will find resilience.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Should I Keep Watching Netflix's "Altered Carbon"?

World of Altered Carbon
I’m still thinking about it.

Aside from the excessive violence and gore that for inexplicable reasons seem to be the norm for SFF on TV and the too-obvious rif on Bladerunner, there are aspects that intrigue. Mostly to do with the premise—which is not particularly original, but is treated with some originality. I have to admit that part of the attraction of "Altered Carbon" is its rich pastiche of world building; a world of “cyberpunk aesthetic [that] feels like a '90s anime brought to life…and an intriguing exploration of where digital consciousness could take us,” says engadget. They go on to describe the premise of the show: “In Altered Carbon, death is obsolete. Physical bodies are merely containers, or "sleeves," used for hosting "cortical stacks," futuristic storage devices that hold your memories and consciousness. If your body dies, your stack (assuming it hasn't been destroyed) can easily be moved over to a different sleeve. They plug into slots at the back of your neck, in a nod to the Matrix.”

The premise of potential immortality (only for the rich “meths” [short for Methuselah] who can afford it, of course) provides an opportunity for discourse of humanity’s use or abuse of such a gift. And the question of whether we deserve to live “forever” and what that would mean.

Quelcrist Falconer
To this always intriguing question, rebel Quellcrist Falconer (played by Renee Elise Goldsberry), in Episode 7 finally provides something of substance worth watching—and discussing. Quell tells the group that they are not fighting the Protectorate (the goon army that serves the wealthy and powerful) but immortality itself:

“The creation of stacks was a miracle and the beginning of the destruction of our species. A hundred years from now I can see what we will become. And it’s not human: a new class of people, so wealthy and powerful, they answer to no one and cannot die. Death was the ultimate safeguard against the darkest angels of our nature. Now the monsters among us will own everything, consume everything, control everything. They will make themselves gods and us slaves…If we do not stop the curse of eternal life in our realm, our children will inherit despair. The ebb and flow of life is what makes us all equal in the end.”

Protectorate, goon squad of the powerful elite
Admitting to Takeshi that it was she in fact who invented the stacks, Quell shares:

“I wanted to be an explorer, to see other worlds with my own eyes… I found a way to transfer the human consciousness between bodies and in that creation soar; suddenly anyone could travel distances beyond imagination…and no one would ever be limited by one lifetime again.” Then she draws upon the metaphor of Rome, a town of refugee cattle herders that became the most powerful empire of ancient Earth because of its roads—the technology that let them send their armies all over the world. “I thought I was freeing the human spirit,” she says, “but I was building the roads for Rome. Eternal life for those who can afford it, which means eternal control over those who can’t. That is the gift I gave humanity.” Which is why she is hell-bent on destroying the stack technology.

Takeshi Kovacs
And yet, our main protagonist (hero), Takeshi Kovacs, is introduced early on as a chain-smoking, ill-considerate and disrespectful AH who, after being politely asked not to smoke, consistently lights up and blows noxious smoke into who’s ever face he is talking to. Clearly introducing one of the many paradoxes of the show: a disrespectful uncaring hero who fights to maintain compassion and kindness in humanity.

Then again, isn’t paradox part of our humanity? I write about this myself in my upcoming book “A Diary in the Age of Water.”

I suppose that is what we are. So, for now, I'll keep watching... 

Nina MunteanuNina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit for the latest on her books.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Interview with Simon Rose on The Children's Writer's Guide 2

I’m pleased to welcome back Simon Rose, author of fifteen novels and many nonfiction books for children and young adults. He’s also the author of eight guides for aspiring authors and has just released the second installment of The Children’s Writer’s Guide.

So what’s this latest book all about?

The Children’s Writer’s Guide 2 is ideal for writers not just of books for children and young adults, but also features information that’s applicable to writers in all genres. The first installment of The Children’s Writer’s Guide has a wealth of tips and advice, including suggestions regarding how to get started as a writer, dealing with writer's block, conducting research, choosing appropriate names for your characters, the editing and revision process, as well as the world of marketing and promotion.

This second book further explores the writing process, examining topics such as developing memorable characters, creating effective dialogue, the importance of book covers, the value of blogging, age levels and appropriate content for books for children and young adults, networking, and the process of submitting your work to publishing houses. In combination with The Children’s Writer’s Guide, this second book provides invaluable advice and support for both established and aspiring authors of books for children and young adults.

What inspired you to write this book?

The first instalment of the book came out a few years ago and at the time I had some material left over that didn’t quite fit. I considered writing a second part to the guide, but didn’t have anything else to add at the time and as with many other writers, other projects took priority. However, I did add sections when I had time and finally late last year I had enough to produce the second book.

Simon Rose
Have you written and published other guides for writers?

Yes, in total I’ve written and published eight of these types of books. In addition to the two guides for children’s authors, there’s The Time Traveler’s Guide, which examines the writing of time travel stories and historical fiction, The Working Writer’s Guide, that explores the many ways that people can try to make a living as a writer, and The Social Media Writer’s Guide, which features tips and advice about writing online content for websites and social media. Where Do Ideas Come From? is all about creating workshops and presentations based on your books. Exploring the Fantasy Realm and School and Library Visits for Authors and Illustrators are very small books and the material also appears in the first part of The Children’s Writer’s Guide.

Is it important for aspiring authors to read books like this?

Yes, I think so. You obviously need an idea before you can start writing any book, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction and are largely on your own during the writing process. However, it’s always good to conduct research and seek out information that might help you along your journey and both parts of The Children’s Writer’s Guide are very helpful for writers, and not just those writing for children and young adults. Much of the information in both books is very much applicable to writers in all genres, whether for younger readers or for adults.

Where can people purchase your book?

The Children’s Writer’s Guide 2 available as a paperback on Amazon and as an ebook on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. The ebooks are available in ePub, Kindle, and pdf formats.


Ebook Amazon Kobo Smashwords Barnes and Noble iBooks

The Children’s Writer’s Guide is also available in all formats at these locations.

Where can people find out more about you and your books?

You can learn more on my website at or online at the following social media sites:

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